HC Deb 17 February 1970 vol 796 cc247-54
Mr. Deputy Speaker

We come now to Amendment No. 9—

Earl of Dalkeith

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Since there was no discussion at all in Committee on the point about compensation dealt with in Amendment No. 10, would it be possible to discuss Amendment No. 10 with No. 9, as the two are linked?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that that is not possible. The selection of Amendments has already been made by Mr. Speaker, and it cannot be altered now.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 4, line 17, at end insert: Provided that before carrying out works under this section which would materially alter the level of the highway, the highway authority shall consult the local authority in whose area the land is situated and any person affected thereby. In Committee on 20th January, the Under-Secretary of State said that he was willing to consider a similar Amendment which we had moved on this point. To be fair, he did not hold out any great hopes, he said, of being able to accept our Amendment or to bring forward a similar one. When we saw that the Government had not tabled such an Amendment, we did so.

There is an important difference, however, between this Amendment and the earlier one. In Committee, we stipulated an alteration of more than two metres, but after hearing the arguments we thought it better in this Amendment to stipulate only "material" alteration to the highway. This makes the Amendment more sensible.

Where the level of a highway is raised or lowered, we feel strongly that people with adjoining property can be greatly affected. Not only private people but the local authority is entitled to know what is going on and to be consulted. Therefore, the Amendment provides that where the level is to be materially altered, the highway authority shall consult the local authority or any other person affected.

We have put in the general word "materially" because, as the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) rightly said in Committee, a change in level of only a few inches can be a material alteration. We also looked for the support of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) who, when his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said that, although people could be materially affected by a very small movement, he did not think this was necessary, described that utterance as "Fascist nonsense". I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be here to support me today, but perhaps he will return later.

This is a genuine point which affects ordinary people a good deal. In any cases of big alterations, the highway authority will probably consult, but we want to ensure that an obligation is laid on it to consult in every case. It was to protect those affected, and the local authority concerned, that we put down the Amendment.

5.15 p.m.

Earl of Dalkeith

I support my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith). We have already heard about the bungalow of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). In that case, I should have thought, the highway authority could build up the road in front of his house, so that he could not see out of his windows. It would be only elementary courtesy to consult him beforehand. I would go further and suggest that he be compensated for the loss of value of his house, since it could be rendered virtually worthless in that way. Yet he would get compensation only if the road builders trampled on his daffodils: he would get nothing for loss of value.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me of any highway authority which has built up a road higher than a house?

Earl of Dalkeith

We nearly had a very good example of that in the Edinburgh ring road proposals. That would have been a great big thing on stilts which could have had an appalling effect on the value of neighbouring residential property. One can think of hundreds of such examples.

I am not happy that Amendment No. 9 even goes far enough or that consultation in itself is enough. As Amendment No. 10 is not called, we cannot discuss it, although there was not one syllable of discussion on this point in Committee.

Mr. Bence

I have a great deal of sympathy with the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith), but I would be very surprised if any local authority planned or undertook road construction which meant raising the level without consulting the local authorities concerned.

Only a few weeks ago, a number of us from my village attended a meeting called by the Ministry of Transport, in a nearby borough, to hear the plans for the motorway which will pass around our territory. People were circulated and invited to attend to hear the proposals. Members of the borough, the rural and the county councils were there. When ringroads are constructed in big cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, light can be obscured, as has happened in London and Glasgow. Many individuals suffer considerable loss of amenity in this way.

I was not on the Committee, but I am certain that my hon. Friend can assure us that none of these things will be done except through consultation witth the local authorities and that individual citizens will receive the utmost protection to ensure that their amenity will not be destroyed without ample compensation.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) argued that the Amendment was not necessary because a sensible highway authority would normally exercise the courtesy of consulting the local authority affected by its road alteration proposals. I dare say that that is so, but one can envisage circumstances when that consultation might not take place. If the hon. Gentleman is right in believing that, in any event, a highway authority will always consult the local authority, he can have no objection to including our proposal in the Bill, since no obligation would be involved to do more than is done already.

But the Amendment goes further than that. I am concerned more with the individual than with the local authority. I am not certain that the courtesy of consultation will always extend from the highway authority through the local authority to the individual. A case came to my notice some time ago of a man whose property was affected by a road alteration proposal but who knew nothing about it until a steamroller appeared outside his house. There should be a requirement to consult so that those affected may at least feel that they are being courteously treated by being consulted so that, if necessary, they can take action.

My noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) referred to damage caused to daffodils and said that the Bill would enable compensation to be received. But other problems can arise. If the level of a highway is to be raised, even marginally, that alteration can throw out the whole approach to one's house from the roadway. People may find difficulty in driving their cars from their garages along a short driveway to the main road. I can think of several houses where the raising of the adjoining roads by one foot or so would make it difficult for the occupants to drive in and out of their garages, particularly in wintry conditions when a slight inclination might make their path almost impassable.

There are considerations of this kind to which highway authorities should pay attention, and the individual should be enabled to raise matters if he thinks that he will be adversely affected. He will not have that opportunity unless this process of consultation is provided, and for this reason I strongly support the Amendment.

Mr. Dempsey

The most important person involved in all this is the individual. He is far more important than the local council or highway authority. I agree with what has been said about the difficulties that arise when the height of a road is altered, but we must not forget another problem that frequently occurs; namely, the seepage from drainage.

While I appreciate the inconvenience that may be caused to people when the height of a road is altered, bad drainage can result from road alterations. We have had cases of water seeping into occupiers' gardens and even into their homes. Once this happens one is faced with the old battle of who is responsible, the highway or local authority or the person affected.

We must never forget that to many people their home is their castle. For this reason they should be consulted, even if only to ensure that they may be adequately represented to protect their interests should the need arise. While highway authorities are expected to consult, there have been occasions when they have not consulted, and difficulties have arisen.

I recall a case when we could afford to raise not the whole road but only part of it. This meant that when floods came larger vehicles could pass through the lower part but smaller vehicles could not, and they had to keep to the higher part of the road. Hon. Members will appreciate the difficulties that arose. Not only should adequate consultation occur, but technical advice should be made available by the authority and provision made for legal expenses to be met by that authority.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is getting wide of the Amendment.

Mr. Dempsey

I am endeavouring to explain how important consultations are from the individual's point of view.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Amendment does not deal with consultation with individuals. It refers to consultations between the highway authority and the local authority.

Mr. MacArthur

On a point of order. With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I point out that the Amendment refers to consultation between the highway authority and … the local authority in whose area the land is situated and any person affected thereby which surely means that the individual is very much affected by all this.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is right. I misread the last few words of the Amendment, and I therefore apologise to the House in general and to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) in particular.

Mr. Dempsey

From my experience of these matters, I have always felt that the individual, be he the owner-occupier or the tenant, is the most important person concerned when alterations of this kind are proposed. It is vital for us to give him the fullest possible protection, and I hope that the Minister will adequately cover this point.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I will be tempted to deal with only some of the comments made by the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) and other hon. Members because I do not propose to argue about compensation. If the alteration of a level affects an individual property so that remedial works are necessary, the highway authority would normally conduct negotiations with the owner. We are not discussing compensation at this point but simply whether or not there is a process of consultation.

I agree with the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) that in most cases there is no need for the first part of the Amendment. Indeed, the local authority associations are convinced of this and say that the first part of the Amendment would introduce an unnecessary elaboration into what they regard as a reasonably simple procedure.

At present the Secretary of State is a highway authority, as is the county council. The county councils are made up of landward areas and burghal members. If the Secretary of State engages a county council as his agent, the burghal members would naturally be involved. As for the officials, county surveyors are in close touch with burgh surveyors. Having consulted the county councils principally involved and the local authority associations, we have concluded that the first part of the Amendment is not necessary. Indeed, it would only make life more difficult.

5.30 p.m.

I was not in the Committee at the time, but I think the original figure was 2 metres. It has been altered in this Amendment to "materially". I think hon. Members would agree that "materially" is open to a great deal of ambiguity. In consulting an individual, what would be regarded as material? If the authority was carrying out only minor regrading of a surface which might be below 2 metres, would that be material? The Amendment is not desirable in that regard.

Of course it is not the intention that there should be no consultation with individuals, and I accept that there are circumstances in which an individual could be affected and consultation might be desirable. I am prepared to look at this matter again, but I am not prepared to recommend incorporation of this Amendment because consultation between local authorities is not necessary. It is rather like saying that we are consulting each other, and "materially" is thus ineffective.

Mr. Wylie

I must accept responsibility for using the word "materially". Surely a material alteration is any alteration to which the de minimis rule does not apply? It must be any alteration other than a very minimal one.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I should like to look at this matter again because I concede that there could be circumstances in which it could be argued that the material change was very small, but if a change were small and yet caused consequential flooding in the home or the property of the person concerned, that would hardly de de minimis, even if it were merely a change in the camber and the change in the road level was very small. This is a point which I shall look at, but I do not want this Amendment to be pressed.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

In the circumstances I shall be as gracious as possible to the Minister of State. I do not intend to get involved in de minimis rules. My approach to this matter is practical, as was the approach made by the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey). They were concerned about the ordinary householder and how he could be affected.

The Minister of State has said that if we put in an Amendment of this sort it would make life more difficult for local authorities; but if it is something which they do already I cannot see that it would cause difficulty. The Minister says that they are consulted. We are generous in these matters and would not want to foist something on them which is not genuinely wanted.

As to the question of individuals being affected by an alteration in the road level, I am grateful to the Minister for undertaking to look at the point again. In Committee his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary admitted that there was a general point of principle. This afternoon we have gone a stage further and the Minister of State has indicated in practical terms that it might be possible to write something into the Bill which would cover the point.

This debate and the debate we had in Committee have been worth while. In this House it is our duty to stand up for the rights of the individual, and the speeches which have been made from this side of the House have been thoroughly justified. We thank the Minister of State for agreeing to look at this again.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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